“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Last spring, as we prepared for Katie’s graduation, reality started to sink in that Morgan soon would be the only child left at home. People began asking Morgan, “What will you do without Katie?” Morgan didn’t have an answer. She had never been without Katie, and theirs is a bond that I can’t imagine ever being broken. They have been best friends since the first time Katie held Morgan in her arms. Nobody can make each other laugh the way they can (and nobody can make each other cry or get angry the way they can either). So much time and thought was going into the many changes that were about to occur for Katie, and part of me worried about how Morgan would handle the changes in store for her.
Around Easter of last year, Morgan came home from school looking like a girl on a mission. “I’ve been thinking,” she began. Never a good opener in the mind of a parent. “Since I won’t have any sisters anymore after Katie leaves, can I get an exchange student?” After the initial shock of her words settled in, Ken and I laughed. “You will always have sisters,” I said, unsure whether I was happy she was secure in Katie’s leaving or sad that she could move on so easily. “Of course, I will,” Morgan said. “But I’m going to be lonely, and our school announced today that we’re hosting exchange students in the fall, and I was the first one to put my name down as being interested.”
Ken and I didn’t know quite how to answer. What would it be like to have a stranger living in our home, participating in our family time, experiencing the ups and downs we might go through during those months? Would we be able to communicate with and understand each other? What would her family be like? Would she complain about going to Mass every weekend? Would she protest our early-to-bed habits? Would she like my cooking, our dogs, their school? Would she get homesick and be inconsolable? Suffice it to say that, after some lengthy discussions with each other, Morgan, and the school, we decided to open our home and our hearts to a stranger.
In May, we received our packet with details about the young woman who would be living with us. Her name was Astrid, she was from Guatemala City, a Roman Catholic, and shared many of Morgan’s interests – tennis, music, books, school, shopping, etc. They were close in age, in the same grade, and had similar long-term goals. The one question left was, would the girls like each other and get along? We were given the date when they would be allowed to communicate, and Morgan set her phone to a countdown that rivaled in anticipation the New Year’s Eve ball in Time’s Square. “45 days until we can email Astrid,” “27 days until we can email Astrid,” “18 days until we can email Astrid.” The mantra continued all summer. Finally, the day came. As I sent an email to Astrid’s parents, Morgan sent one to Astrid. We heard back almost immediately, and a new friendship was born. Emails turned into texts and texts into SnapChats and SnapChatting into FaceTiming. The sound of laughter and squeals of delight could be heard emanating from Morgan’s room late into the night for the next month. A new countdown had begun, and we all anxiously awaited Astrid’s mid-October arrival.
Almost a month into Astrid’s all-too short eight-week stay, we’ve had our ups and downs. Morgan has gotten use to having a sister in the house all over again, both the good and the bad aspects, and Astrid has gotten used to a new room, new food, new school, and a whole new family. Sometimes they need their space, but they’ve learned that that’s okay. They’ve also learned new words and phrases (in both English and Spanish), new food preferences, and new cultural norms. The biggest thing they’ve learned is that none of us are very different. Astrid often remarks that something I do or say is just like something her mother does or says. The girls often talk about the “drama” of high school and how it is the same everywhere. And they both love my chicken and rice casserole.
With Astrid’s time here almost halfway over already, the girls have started talking about future visits. Morgan plans to spend at least two weeks, if not three, with Astrid’s family next summer. She would like to attend Astrid’s graduation next fall, and Astrid would like to come back here for Morgan’s graduation the following spring. We’ve talked about making plans for our families to get together and even about Astrid’s future plans to get her Master’s in the US, preferably somewhere close to us or to wherever Morgan is.
It seems strange now when we hear talk about “foreigners.” Americans seem to assume that everyone else in the world is so different from us, that we are somehow better, more cultured, smarter, more industrious, etc. Welcoming a stranger into our home only affirmed what Ken and I have taught our girls all along. We are all the same. We all have the same worries, fears, hopes, and joys. Teenage girls love to shop, paint their nails, and get dressed up for special occasions. And they worry about their futures, getting into universities, finding jobs, living on their own, meeting a spouse. Our world becomes smaller every day through invention, innovation, and determination. Let us all open our hearts and homes to others and remember that we are all living similar lives and have the same needs and desires. Let us all believe that there are no strangers among us, only those who have yet to become our friends.
What I was writing about one year ago this week: Saying Goodbye to Worry and Regret.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)